“Shoes: Pleasure and Pain” at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Because of my museum-guilt complex, feeling guilt at attending exhibits whose information I won’t remember, I would not have shelled out 12 pounds for the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but since my mother was intent on going and we applied the 2 for 1 deal with proof of our train tickets into the London city center, I tagged along. 

We followed tunnels until we reached the subway entrance and hurried towards the special Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibit. We were, luckily, among the last to enter. Apparently only X amount of tickets were sold per day, regardless of opening times.  We failed to see the paper guide versions of the information posted on placards, but they would have saved our neck muscles craning around many other visitors to read the small item labels. (I highly recommend you grab one – the large print one, even.)


The first floor of Shoes: Pleasure and Pain featured both ancient and expensive shoes; we spent most of our time on this floor. One pair of shoes had soles that extended backwards much further than the heel of the wearer; another had ridiculously long toes that curled upwards – defying gravity with the support of moss stuffed inside; shoes that Chinese ladies crammed their bound feet into were shockingly tiny; and a pair of Japanese sandals on incredible platforms necessitated the use of two women on either side of the teetering, tottering lady. There were also modern shoes from famous designers, and even fetish shoes. One particular pair had a heel at an angle that made standing impossible for the wearer, so the wearer (implied, a female) would have to crawl… Or shove the impossible heel to up gift giver’s you-know-what.

The theme of the exhibit seemed to be that shoes convey status. Someone who completed arduous work would not be able to wear impractical shoes, so shoes became a symbol of leisure. The sub-theme was that shoes affect gait and how others perceive the wearer, which was demonstrated by a video in the first room. A woman trotted through different settings in different footwear, and it completely changed her gait and how the audience perceived her.

The second story featured information about the process of designing shoes with a video of famous designers discussing their creative process and a section that demonstrated how a shoe is physically formed. The back end contained a portion of shoe collections from anonymous collectors. The first floor was most enjoyable for me, but it would have been nice if the second floor had discussed the comfort of shoes and how they affect spinal alignment. Either way, I definitely got my dose of fashion footwear knowledge for the day!

(I would have taken photos, but they were not allowed within the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition.)

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